Sunday 23 July 2017

Coveney's 17 flights on government jets cost €344,000

Foreign Minister Simon Coveney. Picture: PA
Foreign Minister Simon Coveney. Picture: PA
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Minister Simon Coveney's flights on government jets cost a combined total of around €344,000 over five years, with destinations including Beirut, Algiers, Brussels and Berlin.

Mr Coveney's use of the Ministerial Air Transport Service (MATS) is at the centre of controversy after it emerged he personally called an Air Corps pilot to ask why a helicopter flight he planned to take to his native Cork was cancelled.

An analysis of flight records published by the Department of Defence shows Mr Coveney availed of the jets on offer to government ministers on 17 occasions between 2011 and 2015.

The cost of the flights comes to around €344,000 using the department's average total cost per hour for the two jets in use during the period. This takes into account the direct costs of the flight including fuel, support services and the fixed costs associated with the State holding the aircraft, including personnel and depreciation.

The most expensive set of flights was a December 2014 trip using the government's Learjet that included Beirut, the Lebanese capital, and Tel Aviv, in Israel, on the itinerary.

Then agriculture and defence minister, Mr Coveney was visiting Defence Forces peace-keepers in the Middle East. He also had meetings with the Lebanese and Israeli governments.

Mr Coveney shared the jet with other travelling ministers on seven trips.

In July 2015, he travelled to Valetta in Malta with Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald and then-Labour junior minister Seán Sherlock to visit the Irish Navy ship the LÉ Eithne.

The vessel was then, as it is now, deployed to the Mediterranean on a mission to save migrant lives on the sea route from North Africa.

Other flights listed were to Brussels and Luxembourg on business relating to that brief.

He did not use the MATS as frequently as other ministers in the period.

A spokeswoman for Mr Coveney said that his use of the MATS was sanctioned on every occasion by the Taoiseach and was connected to his "extremely busy" briefs including CAP negotiations and trade missions he needed to attend as agriculture minister.

Mr Coveney has denied that he tried to influence an Air Corps pilot to fly to Cork despite fears of bad weather on June 17, 2015.

The aborted flight was planned so he could attend the announcement of jobs and multi-million Euro investment in Cork. His spokeswoman said he was to represent the Taoiseach at the event and was late because he had to travel by road.

She said he called the pilot "purely to gain a first-hand understanding as to the concern around flying" and it "was not an attempt to influence the pilot's decision".

She insisted Mr Coveney has the "utmost respect for the Defence Forces and its professionalism".

Labour TD Mr Sherlock criticised Mr Coveney, saying he "should apologise for this intervention".

Irish Independent

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